Serving Up an Effective Treatment for Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is the most common elbow problem in adults. This condition, also called lateral epicondylitis, affects the tissues connecting to the "bump" (epicondyle) on the outer part of the elbow. If the problem is on the inside of the elbow, it's called medial epicondylitis.

There are many ways to treat tennis elbow. Drugs, splinting, bracing, heat or cold, and electrical current are used to help reduce the pain and swelling. The focus of this study was a treatment method called iontophoresis.

Iontophoresis is a way to send a drug into the elbow area. During the treatment, a mild electric current is used to push drugs through the skin. This method has fewer side effects compared with injections or oral drugs.

The authors of this study compared two groups of patients with recent (acute) problems of tennis elbow. One group got iontophoresis with a steroid drug called dexamethasone, while the second group received a "dummy" or placebo treatment. The placebo was iontophoresis using a salt solution.

The group receiving the steroid treatment got better quicker, though symptoms after a month were the same for both groups. Patients who got six treatments in 10 days or less had the best results. When it took longer than 10 days to complete the six treatments, the results weren't as good. Iontophoresis showed good short-term results for patients with acute symptoms of tennis elbow.

References: Robert P. Nirschl, MD, et al. Iontophoretic Administration of Dexamethasone Sodium Phosphate for Acute Epicondylitis. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. March/April 2003. Vol. 31. No. 2. Pp. 189-195.